It wasn’t that long ago that the forefather of the 2017 Lexus LS600h, was the quintessential Japanese luxury sedan. In fact, the best Japan could muster at that time was just as good as the best in the world. The biggest question facing the current LS flagship then, is whether it is still good enough?
Rewind back to 1991 – I was still a few years from finishing high school and Lexus launched the LS400 in Australia. Suddenly, Australians realised Japanese manufacturers in fact built luxury cars – even though they had been doing it for years. We just didn’t know about it until Lexus made a play for a share of our local market. We certainly did though when the LS launched here to some fanfare, it has to be said.
The marketing guff of the time tried to convince Australians the LS was the equal of the best from Germany in the form of the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Jump forward to 1993, and my then girlfriend’s mum had a brand spanking new LS400, which afforded me the opportunity to take a closer look at what made this limo from Japan so formidable. Seeing them roll past on the street and spending time as a passenger in one are two vastly different things.
And you know what? Looking back to that experience now, I reckon the LS was very much the equal of the German standard-setters at the time. In some ways you could argue it might even have been a step ahead, but certainly in terms of build quality, driving dynamics, electronic smarts and standard features, the LS was right at the pointy end of a segment that – before the madness of the SUV avalanche – was the premium playground for Australians with enough money to go luxury.
There’s no doubt the original LS was constructed on a foundation of quality. I’ve recently flirted with the idea of buying one – no I don’t need one, but since when has common sense been a proviso – and the number of LS400s around with 300,000, 400,000 and even 500,000km on the dial are testament to how well these big sedans hold together. They drive beautifully too if they’ve been properly maintained. On build quality alone then, the relentless drive of the Japanese to match the best in the world seems to have borne fruit.
The automotive world has changed drastically since 1991 though, and in a multi-turbo, hybrid, diesel, electric, efficient, enviro-friendly 2017, the LS600h has a much tougher task than it ever faced in 1991.
None of us at CarAdvice have ever questioned whether a Lexus product is good either. Good, being the operative word. No, despite the raft of comments to the contrary that will no doubt appear below this review as if by magic, we have nothing against Toyota’s luxury arm, quite the contrary.
There is one stark truth though, irrespective of how blinkered your view of the luxury world is: if you have the balls to charge $214,030 for a vehicle when the competition is asking similar money, it’s going to need to be a lot better than good.
Our job at CarAdvice isn’t just to assess whether a car is good in isolation either. We have to place that vehicle in the segment. If a reader asks us how best to spend their 214 grand plus on-road costs we need a vastly more definitive answer than, ‘well the LS600h is – um – good’.
So, with that in mind, let’s dig down a little into what the new LS600h offers for that not inconsiderable outlay. And keep in mind, that the original LS was offered as a technological flagship from Lexus, in the same vein as the 7-Series and S-Class, the very best that the manufacturer could do, no holds barred.
As mentioned above, the LS600h starts from $214,030 for this F-Sport model, with the range-topping Sports Luxury starting from $245,140 before on-road costs. An indicative drive-away price we noted at the time of writing was $228,564. A BMW 740e hybrid starts from $229,000 while the hybrid S-Class, the S500e LWB starts from $319,715, so there’s a fair difference in pricing across the three just on the numbers. The BMW is probably a little too close to the Lexus for comfort though.
As always with Lexus, standard equipment highlights are many, but there’s more to the story. Simply supplying an infotainment system isn’t enough at this price point – it needs to be the best available. The Lexus system works, but as the conspiracy theorists know, we don’t like it. Universally at CarAdvice we don’t like it either, it’s not just one or two of us, it’s across all testers – more on that later.
Standard equipment includes: 19-inch F Sport dual finish alloy wheels, LED low and high-beam headlights, tilt and slide moonroof, power boot lid, soft close doors, rain sensing wipers, clearance and reversing sonar (eight head), keyless smart entry (four doors), F Sport front bumper and mesh grille, satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic, 12.3-inch multimedia screen with Lexus Remote Touch Controller, 19-speaker 450-watt Mark Levinson DVD Audio system, heated and ventilated front seats with memory, Nanoe moisturising air conditioning, heated steering wheel and rear outer seats, dual-zone climate control, smooth leather accented interior, F Sport steering wheel, badging, scuff plates and pedals and F Sport front seats.
Standard safety inclusions are extensive too and as such, buyers get: rear-view camera with rear guide assist, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, pre-collision safety system with pre-collision and pre-collision front seat belts, driver fatigue monitor with eye and face detection, all-speed radar active cruise control, adaptive front lighting system, adaptive high beam system, eight airbags, vehicle dynamics integrated management and active front headrests.
On paper at least then, the specifications list looks pretty impressive…
Now, you could make the misguided assumption that this luxo barge segment has zero credibility when it comes to driving dynamics, but that would be wrong, and with that in mind, the Lexus packs a genuine punch under the bonnet.
The 5.0-litre petrol V8 paired with the 650V Lexus hybrid system punches out a smooth 327kW of combined power, while the petrol engine makes 520Nm and the electric motor an extra 300Nm chunk of torque.
Lexus has opted for a CVT in place of a conventional torque converter automatic, but there are eight theoretical stepped ratios. Lexus quotes a somewhat optimistic 8.6L/100km on the combined ADR cycle. I use the word optimistic because in real world driving you won’t get anywhere near that figure. We saw 14L/100km in constant traffic, while you’ll be lucky to get that figure close to 10L/100km with some highway running thrown in.
Sporting pretence continues with Drive Mode Select (EV, Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+), multi-link front and rear air suspension with automatic height control, adaptive variable suspension, variable gear ratio steering, paddle-shifters, active front and rear stabilisers, Brembo brakes, high friction pads, and sports-tuned air suspension.
Take a seat in the cabin and the door thuds close – or creeps silently closed if you utilise the soft touch feature – and you’re immediately ensconced in that signature Lexus comfort and quality. The cabin is incredibly well insulated, and delivers that sense of silence only truly premium vehicles can offer.
While the LS is a monster externally, it doesn’t feel huge from behind the wheel and the seating position, visibility and layout of controls are all excellent. The massive 12.3-inch centre screen can be split into two views, but the graphics are a step behind in 2017. Likewise the gauge cluster, which is clear but a little old-looking in a market where high-tech LCD displays are de rigeur.
The steering wheel controls are placed well and are crystal clear even at a glance, which is exactly how they should be. The reality though is, the major controls look, feel and seem old. They don’t feel special and as we’ve said before the Lexus control system is awful. It’s especially difficult to use to do something simple on the move, which in many ways defeats the purpose of it being there in the first place. Try doing anything on a bumpy road above walking pace if you ever get the chance.
The heated/cooled F Sport seats are excellent, comfortable and accommodating, but firm enough and supportive at speed that you don’t feel like you have to hold on at the mere sight of a corner. Lexus has delivered beautiful seating for some time and the LS600h is no exception. I love the rear blind that blocks out plenty of light but retains vision; it makes you wonder why more vehicles don’t have one.
The console bin is large and easy to access, door pockets are clever but not as big as the interior would dictate they should be, and the boot is small, compromised by the heft of the hybrid system and battery.
There is, however, a vast amount of room in the second row, with commodious leg and shoulder room as well as headroom. There are four air vents in the second row, but only one 12V input and like the front pews, it doesn’t feel special back there – certainly not a quarter of a million dollar special anyway.
The Bluetooth connection is rock solid reliable and never dropped out during our week of testing, audio streaming works seamlessly via Bluetooth and the digital radio also worked well.
Regardless of the bank account credentials of the buyers of these vehicles in Australia, most owners drive themselves and will therefore appreciate certain dynamic ability. It’s why BMW and Mercedes-Benz are adamant their flagships must also be capable driver’s vehicles and the Lexus must therefore match that claim.
The first point to note is the sports driving modes make subtle changes to factors like the stiffness of the suspension and feel of the steering but they don’t seem to do enough to justify their existence. It’s hard to feel a tangible difference while you’re driving, even though I’m sure there’s more going on beneath the sheet metal than meets the eye. I spent most of my time toggling between Normal and Sport trying to discern the differences.
At any speed, the cabin is quiet and composed. It’s that beautiful neutral silence that we expect from a luxury car and the Lexus is up with the best. It makes for an incredibly relaxed driving experience. The ride is likewise supple and insulated too, befitting the luxury sedan mantra and exactly as buyers would expect. Sydney’s awful roads are no match for the LS600h’s near perfect suspension tune. It’s a heavy beast too, so to be so fleet of foot, and so adept is no mean feat.
That composure remains right up to highway speed where the Lexus wafts along in near silence, unencumbered by road or wind noise, and the efficiency of the powertrain starts to make more sense too, once you leave city traffic behind.
The engine is an interesting beast. Despite being a big V8, it wants to rev out, seemingly enjoys doing so, and punches hard right up to redline. You don’t expect it from either the engine or the platform, but it’s the way the numbers translate to the real world.
As such, you’ll be tempted to punt the LS along on a country road, but the competency of the suspension can’t quite match the enthusiasm of the powertrain when you do. It’s not a platform designed for a spirited B-road drive, and that’s probably not the desire of the intended buyer.
The engine isn’t as efficient as we’d like or we expected, especially given how much the hybrid system encroaches on boot space. If you’re going to have a bit of a lash as they say, you might as well select Sport or Sport+ and take advantage of whatever trickery the electronics are working on, even if you can’t quite feel what that is.
While the LS600h is undoubtedly a beautifully executed sedan that promises to stand the test of time mechanically, it is expensive, not as premium as the price would indicate, and now behind the times technologically.
If you value the smarts of the hybrid system, you could formulate a case for it being a consideration, but if outright technological advancement is a priority, the LS600h is now behind the times. It’s well and truly time for the all-new model to arrive.